Editor's Note: This article originally was published as the March 9 School Bells column in The Intelligener and Wheeling News-Register.
When I was expecting my first child 28 years ago, I read everything I could about babies and child development. I wanted the best for my baby, and one of the best actions I could take, I learned, was to read to her. So read I did. Even before she was born, her dad and I took turns reading some of our favorite children's books to her.
I don't think it's a coincidence that my child, from the first years of her life, loved language, words, and books. All of her life she has been reading and writing and working with words.
That love of language continues as my daughter now reads to her own unborn child. Members of her book club gave her copies of their favorite children's books, and she and her husband take turns sharing those books with their son - even though he can't see the pictures yet.
But he can certainly hear the words. Experts tell us that even in utero, humans begin to learn language. They learn to distinguish different sounds and different voices.
Research shows that babies learn all the sounds of their native language by their first birthday. Reading to babies - before and after birth - encourages the development of language skills, attention span, memory, vocabulary, imagination, social skills and more. Children whose parents read to them have larger vocabularies, better speaking ability, and more reading readiness skills than other children.
Dr. Seuss, who would have been 108 years old on March 2, was interested in the research on babies' language development. In fact, Seuss's popular "The Cat in the Hat" was used in a study of parents reading to their unborn children. The researchers found that babies appeared to respond to their parents' reading and became more active than usual during the reading, settling down after the reading stopped. When they had the same reaction to the story after birth, the researchers concluded that the babies actually remembered hearing the story.
There's even an adaptation of Seuss's "Oh, the Places You'll Go!" written to be read to babies in utero (it's titled "Oh Baby, the Places You'll Go! A Book to be Read in Utero" by Tish Rabe). The following lines are from the first and last pages:
"Baby, oh, baby,
the places you'll go!
The worlds you will visit!
The friends you will know!
"It's a scrumptulous world
and it's ready to greet you,
And as for myself ...
I can't wait to meet you!"
The benefits of reading aloud to children were celebrated just a few days ago on World Read Aloud Day on March 7. Sponsored by LitWorld, a nonprofit international advocate for literacy, World Read Aloud Day unites teachers and parents around the globe as they support young, developing readers.
"World Read Aloud Day embraces the power of words to bring people together, and I witness this power firsthand when my students gather for our daily read aloud," writes middle school teacher and blogger Donalyn Miller.
In her Education Week: Teacher blog, Miller discusses how reading aloud develops classroom community, exposes students to books they might not discover on their own, and helps inexperienced readers develop stronger skills.
"My students are a reading community," notes Miller. "While reading together, we laugh and cry together, comrades on the same journey."
Further, students comprehend more what they hear than what they read, so reading aloud exposes them to more complex literature than they could read on their own.
"Reading aloud reminds children why they love reading," Miller claims. "Sitting on your lap, encircled by love and warmth, these are our children's first reading memories."
I remember all the warm, snuggly experiences of reading to my girls. No matter what else happened, each day we could always count on those shared moments of reading.
"For students who lack positive reading experiences, read alouds are a marvelous way to introduce them to reading for pleasure," Miller concludes.
I can't wait to share the pleasure of reading with my new grandson.
Linda Shalaway, author of "Learning to Teach ... Not Just for Beginners" (Scholastic, 2005), teaches at Cameron High School.